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“Have you considered my servant Job?” —Job 1:3

Invitation to the Word
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Ada Middleton
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Questions for studying the Bible

Begin any encounter with Scripture by asking the Holy Spirit for illumination and wisdom:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning: send forth your Holy Spirit to enlighten our study.  May we may hear, mark, learn, and inwardly digest your word, so that embracing its embrace we might hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life in the living Word Jesus Christ.  Amen


How does this particular scripture fit into the whole of the biblical book?  You need to have an understanding of the general outline and themes of the whole book a passage is in.  You can do your own outline of the book, which may differ from one scholars provide in a good study Bible

Consider your understanding of what the gospel is that all of the Bible proclaims.  How does this scripture relate to the whole of the gospel?  How does it modify, nuance or fall short of your understanding of the gospel?   Does this text challenge or change your understanding of the gospel?    

What is the socio-cultural background of text?  When was this written?  Where?  What was going on in history in general at that time?  What was going on in that place at that time?   How did the people of God respond?  What’s implied in how they should have responded?   

Places are important.  For example, like now, folks assumed certain things about you if you came from a certain place.  In Jesus’ day Galileans were known for being independent freedom fighters.  Whether or not this perception was true is something you have to discern by reading between the lines, but it can help explain certain expectations people had.  Find out everything you can about place names and what they meant to the folks then.  How does geography figure into the meaning of a passage? 

What do people's names mean?  Where else do the peo-le ple show up in scripture and what function do they serve in the larger story? 

What items are mentioned in the text and how/why were they ordinarily used?   For example, in the passage, “I have set my face like flint” (Isaiah 50:7), when you ask what flint is and what it was used for, you will find flint used to make altars and knives used to cut the covenant of circumcision. Flint is the rock Moses struck in the desert that had water flow out of it.  Notice how these uses and connotations add dimension to the meaning of the text. 

Use a concordance to look up other places that key words occur in the Bible and how they’re  used. 

Compare translations to note where there are differences.  This indicates that the original language is more nuanced than can be easily translated into English.  You may wish to use

Conider the genre of passage.  Is this a letter, poetry, a story, or saying?  If it’s a story, what kind of story is it?  We have certain expectations of literature based on what kind, or genre, we think it is.  For example, when something starts with “Once upon a time,” we think it’s going to be a fairy tale with certain fantastical qualities.  So consider:  What are the normal expectations of the genre?  Does this passage conform to them?  Or does the passage play with our expectations to bend or break our assumptions?  If so, where, how, and to what purpose? 

Audience expectations.  Who was this text written for?  Much of what was written in the Bible was handed down orally before being written down.  Was the written audience different from whom it was originally intended before being written?  If so, how does that affect its meaning?  What were the original audience’s expectations underlying this text?  How does this text deal with those normal expectations?  Think through all these issues theologically:  Are our expectations good, tainted, bad, incomplete?  Are they met, judged, exposed, exceeded?  How is the author playing with expectations in order to tell us something important about God?

What does this passage intend to do and how?  Look carefully at the sequencing of structure of the particular passage and how it unfolds its meaning.  Is it a common literary/rhetorical form?  With variations?   Is it using a standard form ironically?

If you know Hebrew and Greek, do serious word studies!  If you’re a bit rusty linguistically, you can look up the passage in an interlinear original text, and look up key words in either the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament or the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament.   Note these key words’ secular and sacred usages during their time and in times past.  Where else are these words used?  Consult a good concordance to see how the word is used elsewhere.   Are there any unusual repeated words and cognates in the original language?  Where, how, and why?  Are there unusual technical/theological  terms?  Are there words being used in extraordinary ways through word play with associative meanings in the original language that don't come through in most English translations?    How important are these in understanding what's going on and what's at stake theologically (i.e. with regard to God)?   

Think about your own perspective toward this text.  Where are the difficulties, perplexities, joys, etc., for you in this text and why? 

Think about  the way an abused child or adult might experience this text.  Hear various people’s responses to the text, especially people whose life experiences are very different from yours. 

Think about the social position of those in the text.  What is their socio-economic status in their society, and what’s that like today?  How does that affect meaning?  For example, bread means something a bit different to someone who hasn’t had anything to eat in three days than it does to someone who has it at every meal.  If the things that happened to Job had happened to Hagar, how would the book of Job be different? 

Rewrite the text the way you remember it, noticing what you did and did not remember by comparing what you wrote to the actual text.  Why did you notice what you did?  Discern the Spirit.

Think about how various parts of this scripture are like something similar today. 

Imaginative Readings

Though we need to be careful in making every thought captive to Christ (II Corinthians 10:5), our reading of scripture may be enhanced by a more imaginative reading such as that espoused by Ignatius where you put yourself in the scene of a biblical narrative.  (And this really works best with a story, not a letter or discourse.)  Though you can let your imagination go for the exercise, the validity of what it brings up needs to be tested in accord with the aims of the text itself. 

What do you see, hear, smell, taste, touch, feel at various parts of the story?  Who do you identify with?  Why?  Take the position of different characters and look at what’s going on from their point of view.  What do they see, hear, feel, touch, taste?   If you were a director, how would you film the scene in order to get its meaning across.

Do a character study like an actor by asking basic questions of each character like:

  • Who am I?  (Do a basic biographical.history, but also consider: How do I move?  What animal am I most like?, etc.) 
  • Where am I?
  • When? 
  • Why? 
  • What do I want? 
  • How will I get this? 
  • What obstacles must I overcome? 
  • How far will I go?  Why? 

Have each character do a monologue and listen to what they tell you. 

Do an improvisation of the text with a group of actors/readers.

Block the scene like a director.

Draw it like a set designer/cinematographer.

Draw/paint/sculpt/collage your own version of text.

Image the text by starting with each factual image in the text to get it clearly in mind then free associate images that it brings to mind.

Sing it.  What mood would this text be if it were music?  What would its rhythm be?  Its musical genre?  

Dance or move to the text.  Note what knowledge the body brings to the light. 

Again, although imaginative readings may be helpful in bringing out certain meanings in a text, they do need to be subordinate to the gospel.

The Big Questions

So what {were/are} the purpose(s) of this passage?  What does the passage tell us about God and/or the human relationship with the divine? 

What is God saying to you through this scripture? 

What does the life promoted by this text look like and how does that relate to the gospel? 

How will you need to change in order to live out this text? 

How will life as a whole need to change in order to live out this text? 

What are you going to do/be as a result of this text?


As a pastor or teacher, you can spend hours browsing commentaries.  How do you know which are the best to pull?  Here are our suggestions, compiled by professors from various seminaries.

Download Commentary List 


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